Interactive technology plays special roles in public space that they usually serve as a part of control system interacting with people. It is interesting to think about ‘
who controls whom’ in this context, the many digital devices as part of urban infrastructure and they actually control people’s behavior, such as traffic lights for cars.

With increasing technology integrating in public domain, especially on the streets, digital devices are not just sending signals, but extend to other types of interaction with people such as services and information delivery. For instance, parking meter payment machine is a interactive device that serves for a specific function and users. You probably will have zero interaction with it if you’re not parking a care and have to pay the meter. Last year in 2015, New York City started a LinkNYC project replacing the old telephone booth to a new street interactive digital device. It is a slick stand with large LED screen on both sides, and a touch screen with key board on the side. The user can use the internet, watch videos on YouTube, check public service information, make a 311 complaint or emergency call, and charge their cellphone through the USB port. It also provides free WIFI. LinkNYC is a collaboration between New York City and Sidewalk Labs founded by Google, and it is considered as a key project for NYC’s transformation to a ‘smart city’ in the short future. Previously I conducted a research on the technology strategy and market plan of LinkNYC and Sidewalk Labs.

Although LinkNYC is armed with many hardware and devices and potentially will be an important piece of urban IoT in NYC, the interaction, is still limited to one person with a machine. What I really wanna discuss is something simple on the surface yet with a much more complex dynamic in terms of interaction:

Yeah I’m talking about crosswalk lights, the simple push button with multiple lights and beeping sound. It may sound very simple mechanically, but when we talking about interaction,  there are so much going on with these simple machines. If we think the relationship between crosswalk lights, pedestrian, and cars in a sense of programming, here are the relational interactions:

Pedestrian (action) –> Traffic Lights (signal) –> Cars

Traffic Lights (self programmed by time) –> Pedestrian

Pedestrian Cars

Recently I just noticed that a crosswalk light on Jay St. MetroTech in Brooklyn starting to include a recorded voice announcing ‘the light is on and you can cross the street’. Is this part of universal design, or just for a more interactive way of controlling traffic and pedestrians?

However when there is social interaction involved, that when people start to adjust their behavior and decision based on surrounding crowd, the power of interactive technology get weak and less impactful. I took the video below at Union Square, New York during the rush hour, to show how we can ‘overwrite’ the program when there is a significant amount of people, and our interaction with the digital device turns to a social behavior.